As landlessness, land grabbing intensifies, so does agrarian unrest

FILE PHOTO. Members of the peasant group Dammak-Ba at their camp on the Sanggalang estate during the bungkalan on May 17, 2017 (Photo by Arrem Alcaraz/Radyo Natin Guimba)

“We asked the government to dismantle haciendas and distribute the land to farmers for free but what we got were bullets.”


MANILA — The decades-long peasant’s struggle for genuine agrarian reform is also a history of state fascism, brutal dispersals, false promises, and worsening culture of impunity.

In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), commonly described as a ‘bogus’ land reform program, farmers marched to Mendiola — not only to call for genuine agrarian reform, but also to put an end to peasant killings and to push for the resumption of peace talks.

“Farming, tilling the land is a noble job. It is not terrorism. It is disturbing that Duterte’s response to the legitimate concerns of the peasantry is murder, extrajudicial killings in the countryside, bombings, and illegal arrests, all of which having destroyed the lives of our fellow Filipinos.” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Chairperson Danilo Ramos said in opening the program at Mendiola on June 8.

Read: Peasants slam proposal to amend 30-year-old ‘bogus land reform law’

That the spate of human rights violations against the peasant sector comes at a time when there is growing agrarian unrest.

In response to state neglect, farmers have launched land occupations of haciendas and idle lands, conducted massive mobilizations nationwide, and expanded mass organizations. At the same time, peasants also face the brunt of President Rodrigo Duterte’s counterinsurgency program, Oplan Kapayapaan, extrajudicial killings, red-tagging, and intense militarization — programs that do not, in any manner, solve nationwide landlessness and poverty.

To illustrate, below is a list of the most recent attacks on peasants’ rights and land reform.

1. Central Luzon: Militarization and conversion of agricultural land for commercial use

Aquilino Lopez, chairperson of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon – Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE) aptly described the nationwide peasant situation in saying, “Where there are people’s struggle and active resistance, there is repression and militarization.”

The region serves as ‘home’ to several camps of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine Air Force (PAF) and military bases of United States Armed Forces (USAF).

In Central Luzon, there are about eight camps: the Northern Luzon Command in San Miguel, Tarlac; PAF bases in Floridablanca and Capas; headquarters of the 91st Infantry Battalion (IB) in Aurora; the 24th and 69th IBs in Pampanga; the 21st IB in Nueva Ecija; and the 3rd Mechanized Division in Tarlac and Zambales.

Even before the 2018 Balikatan Exercises, USAF and the US Government already led the construction of a warehouse at Basa Air Base in Floridablanca, Pampanga, being the first project under the Enhanced Development Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippine government. The warehouse is supposed to house equipment to be used in disaster response, but Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana himself also admitted that the warehouse construction is in response to ‘evolving security challenges and to promote peace.’

Incidentally, Central Luzon is also ‘home’ to mega-infrastructure projects of the Duterte administration under Build, Build, Build.

To be built in 9,450 hectares of agricultural land and home of the Aetas of Central Luzon is the multi-trillion New Clark City, which will effectively transform the area into a business district.

Under the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), three big projects for New Clark City will be built: the mixed use industrial real estate development, national government administrative center with a budget of P13.160 billion ($248 million), and the food processing terminal and international food market with a budget of P31.300 billion ($590 million).

Thousands of Aetas are estimated to be affected by this massive land-use conversion and development aggression.

Thousands of Aetas are estimated to be affected by this massive land-use conversion and development aggression.

“Our President is a president of press releases, he also promised the moratorium on land use conversion, but instead, he hastened land conversion, and now, land grabbing becomes state sponsored as the Build, Build, Build program is being implemented. If there is any truth in his pronouncements of land distribution of military reservation, why not start in Capas, Tarlac, and stop the construction of the New Clark City, and let the farmers keep our land,” Ferdinand Manaloto of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Tarlac (AMT) said in Filipino.

Central Luzon is also ‘home’ to massive haciendas, foremost being Hacienda Luisita, where farmers have continuously fought against landlessness.

(BULATLAT FILE PHOTO) A Dammak-Ba farmer clears the land to prepare for tilling during the May 17, 2017 bungkalan in the Sanggalang estate, Baloc,
Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija (Photo by Arrem Alcaraz/Radyo Natin Guimba)

Read: When harvests grow on bloodied fields

AMGL pointed out that the notoriety of land-grabbing and displacement is always connected to the location of military detachments.

In Central Luzon, the most recent victim of extrajudicial killings is Fr. Richmond Villaflor Nilo, a priest from the Diocese of Cabanatuan. He was gunned down by unidentified men while about to celebrate mass at the San Pablo Chapel in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija. He is the second priest killed in Nueva Ecija, the former being Fr. Marcelito ‘Tito’ Paez, a known champion of peasant rights, who was gunned down after assisting the release of a political prisoner.

In the peasant sector, Carolina Laña, a 62, was killed on May 26 by unidentified armed men. She served as co-convenor of the Suyuan Para sa Pagatatanggol (Cooperation for Defense). She was also a known leader of the Samahan ng Magbubukid ng Kababaihan sa Aurora (Samaka).

2. Southern Tagalog: Fighting land-grabbers and intense military attacks

The Southern Tagalog region carries the same challenges as Central Luzon, currently being attacked by the military, which has actively conducted aerial bombings and protected land-grabbers against the land occupations of farmers.

In October 2017, thousands of farmers in peasant communities had to find refuge elsewhere after the AFP and PFA launched intense attacks and aerial bombings because of alleged ‘insurgency’.

Read: Urgent CHR help sought to stop military bombing in god-rich Batangas villages

As of this writing, these attacks have only worsened. On June 9, 100 elements of the 1st IBPA forcibly entered Sitio Balacbacan, Barangay Laiya, San Juan, Batangas. The soldiers cut down coconut trees, the major livelihood of the farmers, and threatened to set up a barricade around the community.

State agents also built their posts near the kitchen of the Habagat-Laiya camp — eight soldiers and six policemen. Habagat-Laiya is the provincial organization of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas) in Batangas.

In Lupang Ramos, land-grabbers are being pitted against each other by land-grabbers and interested politicians. For three decades, the farmers have occupied and tilled 100 hectares out of the total 372 hectares of land owned by a certain Emerito Ramos. The farmers have already been able to prove that, despite pronouncements that the property will be converted into commercial use, it is agricultural and productive land. True enough, they have already planted root crops, banana trees, and vegetables.

On June 2, conflict broke out after a group of farmers paid by Cavite Mayor Elpidio Barzaga to support land-grabber Nestor Pangilinan, a barangay councilor, attempted to sabotage the land occupation. Pangilinan’s private goons came to the area to sow fear and terror among the farmers, and on June 4, gunshots were already fired against the camp of the farmers conducting the land occupation.

“The fact that the Herrera-Pangilinan-Tolentino camp can enact their horrific ways to steal lands from the legitimate farmers of Lupang Ramos clearly shows that CARP has been nothing but a failure to provide genuine agrarian reform,” Eddie Billiones, spokesperson of Kasama-TK, said.

Originally, Lupang Ramos was included in the list of haciendas to be distributed to farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), but a 2011 decision of the Supreme Court reversed its classification and exempted it from distribution.

Being one of the mineral-rich regions in the Philippines, and also being known for notorious land use conversions, human rights violations also plague the Southern Tagalog region. Karapatan has monitored at least six extrajudicial killings from July 2016 to March 2018 and 37 political prisoners.

3. Bicol Region: Malversation of coco levy funds and destruction through Build, Build, Build

With a total land area of 1,763,250 hectares, 541,189 hectares are forestland and 1,238,091 hectares are alienable and disposable in the Bicol region. (Link to data:

Last October 2017, Bicolano farmers trooped to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) in order to demand the return of PhP 85-billion ($1.6 billion) coco levy fund. Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to return the amount to the coconut farmers, the House of Representatives filed House Bill No. 5745, allowing the use of about PhP 20-billion of the coco levy fund to fund the Coconut Industry fund.

Read: Lakbay Magsasaka | “Duterte has failed farmers”

Bicolano farmers also face displacement and the loss of livelihood because of multi-billion destructive industrial projects under the Duterte administration, among which are the reconstruction of the Philippine National Railway (PNR), the establishment of a new airport, and its transformation into a ‘Boulevard Region’.

Under the Build, Build, Build program, the Duterte administration plans to reconstruct the Philippine National Railway (PNR), which will cross at least three provinces in the Bicol region: Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon — covering 241 barangays, 25 towns, and 5 cities. Mainly, this railway system will benefit the establishment of a “Boulevard Region”, wherein ‘boulevards’ will be built to give way to ecotourism. KMB-KMP estimates that thousands of farmers, fisherfolk, and urban poor will be affected by this project.

The Duterte administration also plans to build a new airport on “prime agricultural land” covering over 1,000 hectares. This covers at least three towns: Pili and Daraga in Albay and San Jose, Camarines Sur. As part of Build, Build, Build, this project has a budget of P4.789 billion ($90 million).

“This will cause landlessness, displacement, and grave poverty,” Bert Autor, president of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol (KMB-KMP), said in Filipino.

The attacks against Bicolano farmers have also intensified, Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Peoples Rights – Bicol (Karapatan-Bicol) having recorded 632 human rights violations in the region, with 25 victims of extrajudicial killings and 34 political prisoners.

4. Visayas: Land occupations in massive haciendas and disaster recovery

State neglect in Visayas comes not only in the form of landlessness but also in the apparent disregard for disaster assistance.

Read: Stand With Samar | On ricelessness, hunger, and poverty

The Visayas region, however, is also home to some of the largest haciendas in the country. In Negros Occidental, where haciendas are transformed into large plantations of sugarcane, farm workers often earn less than PhP 300.00 every 15 days — lower than the minimum wage, and obviously not enough to suffice for decent living. Such is the case in Hacienda Raymundo in Silay City.

In Hacienda Maasin, the farmers have already been able to launch the land occupation campaign in 20 hectares out of 487 hectares of the total area. Originally claimed by Andrew Ramon Benares Javelona, the Hacienda Maasin Farmers and Farmworkers Association (HMFFA), associated with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), filed the petition to have the property distributed to the farmers in 2014. When Benares, a well-known family that has been in control of the Hacienda for a long time already, protested, the regional office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) dismissed the farmers’ complaint.

Read: Bungkalan: Mga Aral mula sa Hacienda Luisita at Negros

Later, in March 2017, the farmers successfully petitioned for the distribution of their respective Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs). Instead of protesting, Benares sold the property to Marcos Escalante, a councilor of the town of Manapula.

The AIDSISA Farmworkers’ Association was also able to launch a land cultivation campaign on agricultural land illegally bought by the Diamond Factor Corporation.

In addition to agricultural lands being converted and forcibly taken from the farmers, the Visayas region is also ‘home’ to one of the most pristine islands in the country that now faces conversion into a commercial area: Boracay.

After the whole island was closed down for alleged ‘rehabilitation’, residents reported that part of the island was already being flattened to give way to the establishment of a casino.

Read: Chinese casino to replace local businesses in Boracay

Human rights violations remain prevalent, as the AFP plans to deploy another battalion in the region. Throughout the Negros province, there have already been 26 recorded extrajudicial killings. The latest victim is municipal wide-KMP Vice Chairperson Moises Padilla, who was shot in front of his store.

Read: The cost of counterinsurgency in Visayas

Myles Albasin, a graduate of the University of the Philippines Cebu (UP Cebu) and member of Anakbayan Cebu, and five other youth activists were also illegally arrested in Mabinay, Negros Oriental.

5. Mindanao: At the crux of martial law, continuing the people’s struggle

Aside from furthering fascist intentions, the imposition of martial law in Mindanao is also intended as a modus operandi to make it easier for foreign and private investors to come to the region. In the end, farmers are left landless, hungry, and poor. Worse, dissent and any sign of resistance leads to either death or continuous harassment.

In fact, of the 150 farmers killed nationwide, 76 are from the Southern Mindanao region.

In 2015, Ibon Foundation revealed the areas affected and minerals extracted from Mindanao by 15 of the biggest mining firms in the region.

Pacific Nickels Philippines, Inc., a British mining firm, extracts silver, zinc, chrome, and iron in the Suriago area, covering about 25,000 hectares. In the General Santos City area, New Zealand-based corporation Saggitarius Mines, Inc. already extracts gold and copper in about 23,571 hectares. B’Laan, T’Boli, and Manobo tribes live in this area.

During the martial law period, Duterte himself commanded that there be no public bidding to facilitate faster ‘rehabilitation’ of Marawi. Months after the government declared that they have already successfully pacified the ISIS-inspired Maute fighters, however, mosques and homes remain in rubbles and Marawi is still ground zero.

Read: Rights abuses on the rise after Mindanao martial law extension

Aside from foreign investors and militarization, the peasant community also faces massive land use conversions to be used for plantations and export products. Under the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), farmers are supposed to replace their crops with falcata, a fast-growing tree to be cut down for export-quality wood. These are usually brought to Korea.

Falcata trees are now prevalent in the Caraga region, with the NGP giving incentives for farmers, without giving due knowledge that planting such tree could damage the soil and render it useless for planting palay and other crops afterwards.

In summary, Barug Katungod, an alliance of human rights workers in Mindanao, recorded that 23 of the 48 biggest operating mines in the Philippines are in Caraga, and that five percentage of the total land area in said region is being utilized for mining. Their data also reveals that 500,000 hectares in Mindanao is currently reserved for plantations.

Read: The plague of plantations

The major Build, Build, Build project expected in Mindanao is the Mindanao Railway Network. Spanning a total of 803 kilometers, PhP 31.544 billion is allotted only for the Tagum-Davao City-Digos (TDD). Similarly, this project will affect thousands of farmers in peasant communities.

Moreover, the noticeable increase in the number of battalions of the Philippine Army in Mindanao has also drawn attention, especially with the spate in the number of human rights violations and killings. From 55 battalions deployed in Mindanao in 2016, there are now 74 battalions deployed in the region.

That the peasant community has already called for ‘nationwide agrarian unrest’ is no longer surprising. The height of the crisis of landlessness, poverty, and state neglect is apparent in the growing mass movements at present.

“We asked the government to dismantle haciendas and distribute the land to farmers for free but what we got were bullets. The killings of farmers have worsened, human rights violations in peasant communities have escalated. Farmers who defend and fight for the land are killed in the most brutal way,” Ramos said.

Defenseless in the face of militarization, and without any resources to fight back against landlords and despots who can utilize institutions in place and take advantage of financial capacity, the only way for the farmers to fight back is to assert their rights. The only way for Filipinos, who so depend on the food produced by farmers and likewise have a stake in the brewing political, social, and economic situation, is to fight back against an emerging despot. (

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